After a straight-set victory over Austin Peay earlier Friday, Missouri needed four sets to claim its second victory of the day over Northern Iowa on Friday evening. The offense was again led by Kylie Deberg, but Andrea Fuentes and Tyanna Omazic were also big contributors in the doubleheader sweep.
Friday’s matches were the home openers for the Tigers, and the fans showed out. A 4-0 start and No. 21 ranking obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed because the seats were packed at both matches at the Hearnes Center on Friday.
In front of hundreds of screaming children from local schools, Missouri — behind Deberg — defeated Austin Peay in straight sets in the volleyball team's first home game of the season and its first game of the weekend-long Mizzou Invitational.
The Missouri offense continued its roll with a hitting percentage of .512, the ninth-best-ever percentage for a single game in school history, against the Governors in the day’s first match. Deberg also continued to do what she has done every game this season, leading the Tigers in kills, this time with 25. The preseason All-SEC member led the Tigers with kills in last weekend's Dayton Invitational, tallying 59 during the three-game invitational to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.
On Friday, Missouri played its first match to the overwhelming crowd noise coming from the Tiger faithful and the school children, who contributed non-stop screaming and high screeching MIZ-ZOU chants that reverberated through Hearnes.
“It was pretty cool,” interim head coach Joshua Taylor said. “As you can see, when you get that amount of people in the Hearnes, it is brutal to even hear your teammates next to you.”
Taylor estimated there were anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 children in attendance. The local students took up three-fourths of the lower bowl and at times were so loud, you could see Missouri volleyball athletes laughing at the noise on the court.
“Having that edge against a visiting team is huge,” Taylor said. “The Hearnes is a brutal place to come play. We love having the home-court advantage.”
As for the match, the Tigers started strong in the first set, taking an early 11-5 lead before Austin Peay closed the gap to 16-15. Missouri eventually held off the Governors, taking the set 25-21. One of the biggest points came when Darian Hollingsworth-Santana made a full-out dive to keep the ball alive that Deberg eventually killed to keep Missouri ahead 23-21. Deberg had a team-leading seven kills in the first set, establishing her presence as the Tigers offensive leader yet again.
“Kylie has been really mindful to be efficient with her feet,” Taylor said. “You can be a good attacker and hit the ball hard, but if you’re not putting yourself in a spot to be tall when you’re attacking, then you won’t be very efficient ... She is doing little things well which just makes her good.”
The kids kept cheering and Deberg kept the Missouri offense on a roll through the second set. Adding another eight kills and completing a convincing 25-12 set win with a block at the net to finish, Deberg continued her dominating day. But the play of the match was made by Leketor Member-Meneh in the second set. An errant pass by the Tigers looked to give a point to Austin Peay, but Member-Meneh came out of nowhere, made a dive at the ball and sent it over the net to land perfectly on the back line. That point sent both the kids and the older crowd to their feet again.
“Volleyball is a very emotional sport, and plays like that where you've got three different players flying throughout the air to save the ball for a miraculous kill really gets the team pumped up,” Taylor said. “Plays like that really capitalize the emotional energy we need to have to be efficient.”
The third set was much of the same. Missouri grabbed an early 14-4 lead behind a true team offensive attack that could not be stopped. Multiple Tigers had kills in the third set that led to an easy 25-14 win and the sweep of Austin Peay.
The story of the match was Deberg's play. The Tigers will look to utilize her 6-foot-4 height in every game, but the dominance she has on the outside has been a difference-maker. The junior from Hudson, Iowa, continues to be the most important piece for the Tigers.
Other important contributors included Kaykla Caffey, who set a season high in kills with eight. Both Omazic and Member-Meneh tallied nine kills. Andrea Fuentes continued to set up the Tiger offense, finishing the day with 44 assists.
The win was the second straight-set victory of the year and improved the Tigers to 5-0 on the season, a mark that grew to 6-0 with the win later in the day against Northern Iowa. Missouri has now won 12 out of the last 15 home openers.
“Having your first win at home is huge. You can’t win them all if you can’t win the first one,” Taylor said.
Northern Iowa, who beat UMKC 3-1 earlier Friday, definitely proved to be more of a challenge than Austin Peay.
“Northern Iowa put a lot of pressure on us,” Taylor said. “They also didn’t make a lot of mistakes, which made it tough.”
The match was competitive throughout, but a balanced offensive attack in the first set allowed Missouri to jump to a quick 8-2 lead. However, after the quick start, the Panthers quickly closed the gap to 13-12 and forced Missouri to take a timeout. After regrouping, the Tigers raised their hitting percentage to .357 and closed out the first set 25-22.
With the heavy reliance on Deberg becoming a theme for the season, the first set was a good change of pace. Omazic, Dariana Hollingswort and Member-Meneh combined for three blocks and five kills to balance out the Missouri attack. However, Deberg still had her fair share. She finished the set with a team leading six kills and two service aces.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the other team’s defense when multiple people are contributing because they can’t predict what you are doing,” Taylor said. “Emotionally, it is good for the team when there is more than one person doing the work.”
The Tigers quickly found themselves in a quick 11-6 hole in the second set until Caffey and Omazic led a charge to close the gap and take the lead 13-12. But Northern Iowa battled back. The Tigers found themselves down again 19-16, and this time there was no comeback in a 25-22 set loss.
The Tigers struggled to get Deberg going, finishing with only two kills in the second set. Missouri also had four attack errors and four service errors that allowed Northern Iowa to capture the set.
The third set was competitive once again. The teams battled back and forth before Missouri went on a scoring run, led by Deberg, to secure a 17-11 lead. The Tigers held on this time, with Deberg leading the team in kills during the third set with five while Member-Meneh added four more on the way to a 25-17 set win.
The other big contributor to the Tigers’ win was Fuentes, who posted a double-double with 40 assists and a career-high 17 digs. Fuentes has had at least 30 assists in every match so far.
“Fuentes has a great IQ of the game,” Omazic said. “She plans ahead and does such a good job of making sure each attacker gets into a great position.”
The final set was all Missouri from the beginning. The Tigers took a 9-1 lead and never looked back on the route to a 25-14 set win and match victory.
“We had a sense of urgency. We wanted to close them out and end it in four because anything could happen in five sets,” Fuentes said. “ … Coming into the tournament, 4-0 made us have a confident mindset. We have a winning mentality because of the win streak and we are hungry to keep it going as long as possible.”
Mizzou Invitational play continues for the Tigers Saturday at 2 p.m. against UMKC, and the weekend wraps up with a noon matchup against Boise State on Sunday.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.